Jeneve Rose Mitchell,15, brought Western (not Country) music to the forefront of American pop culture with her rise through the ranks during the final season of Fox’s hit talent show, American Idol. Sporting a hat, full-length skirts, tucked-in boots, and Dale Evans-esque blouses, she wowed the judges and audience with her musical chops, vocals, and ebullient personality. Mitchell made it through to the final 14 on the television show—a long way from her off-the-grid lifestyle in the mountains of Colorado. In the wake of her rise to stardom, editor Bob Welch caught up with Mitchell to find out where she’ll go from here.
First of all, help me understand your lifestyle. Explain just how far off the grid you are.
We are off the grid, which means we have no electricity. We just can’t get power lines up here. We live on a mountain and I’m homeschooled. The driveway is pretty harsh—about two miles that are super bumpy. We live about seven miles away from Crawford, but it’s barely even a town. We’ve got a lot of livestock around: egg-laying chickens, meat chickens, guineas, turkeys, ducks, goats, pigs, dogs, cats, a couple of cows, and a bunch of horses. All the chores fall on me.
What do your parents do for a living?
My mom is a certified family nurse practitioner. I played a bunch of benefit concerts to raise money to build a health clinic in Crawford. My dad is a retired construction worker so he built [the clinic] and my mom runs it. She can do almost anything a doctor can do. The nearest hospital is about two hours away, so now everyone around has a much better option by coming to her health clinic. My dad is building our house by hand right now.
Music is obviously your passion. How does music fit into the family dynamic?
My dad had a family band when he was a kid. He’s loved music his whole life. I started singing when I was 2 years old. He showed me the fiddle for the first time and I’ve loved music my whole life, too. I’ve played instruments since I was 3. Every day I play music. If I don’t, I’m humming under my breath and singing all the time—annoying my mom to death. I just can’t live without music every day.
Can you list all the instruments you play?
I think so: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, harp, flute, French horn, cello, banjo, ukulele, piano, and trumpet. That’s it, I think. I’m learning more, but that’s all for now.
How have you learned to play so many? Were you self-taught or have you had help?
When I was 3 years old, I learned classical violin music. I wasn’t very musically diverse. But when I was 8 years old, I heard bluegrass fiddling for the first time and I never went back to classical. Then I started learning the mandolin. Now I have a music teacher who starts me on instruments. I have a couple of lessons and then I go off on my own way. I want to have my own twist on everything I play. I like to do most of the learning by myself.
Who are your major influences?
Since I was very little, I was taught that there’s no one thing that’s better than anything else. I love every kind of genre and I learn from every kind of genre and I put what I learn into my music. One of my influences is Michael Jackson because he puts more emotion into songs than I’ve ever seen. I also love Johnny Cash and Ray Charles—who are very different from each other. I try to get influences from as many corners of music as I can.
Emotion seems to play a major role in your performances. Is that something you work on or is that just you?
Putting emotion in and telling a story with every single one of my performances is the most important thing to me when I sing or play music. I think you can tell a story better with music than without music. It’s why I started singing. I loved telling stories and acting, and with music I could do that with melody.
Why were you inspired to try out for American Idol?
I’ve watched American Idol from the first season—even though I was 2 years old when it started. I always wanted to be on the show. I never expected it to actually happen. A year before I was old enough to audition for American Idol, I started really, really working on my voice and my emotion and everything overall.
As the process went along and you moved further through the ranks, can you describe that experience?
Each time I played, I did not expect to make it. The odds alone: 200,000 people auditioned this year! But I just kept making it—on and on and on. It was just crazy every single time.
What about off-stage? What was the most difficult adjustment to being in Hollywood as compared to Crawford?
It was very different. There were lights everywhere. Electricity—that was cool—I could charge my phone whenever I wanted to. There were lots of people, bustle, and craziness. I didn’t have any negative feelings toward Hollywood. I like the city—I like the mountain a lot more—but that’s just me. It was fun. I felt out of place, but I was confident and stuck with my style. I guess that was what made me feel genuine.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I definitely learned a lot of new voice and instrumental tricks and choreography. I found a new zone that I get into for a new level of emotion, so that was really cool.
Was there one particular performance that you are most proud of?
Yes, I was really proud of my performance of “Angel,” by Sarah McLachlan that I played on the harp.
How has life changed for you now that you’ve been through all that?
I’ve had to be on social media to keep this ball rolling, which is fine with me. I love keeping in contact with my fans. It’s a lot of work being on and juggling schoolwork at the same time. I’m going to be touring now that a lot more people know my name and that’s really exciting for me.